Here’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… What you’re carrying could be more than your lunch. Did you know germs that grow on food can make lots more germs in a little over two hours? Without smart packing, some of your sandwiches and snacks could end up making you sick. You can make sure your lunch gives you the energy you need — not a bellyache you don’t need — with these simple BAM! tips.
Those puffy, insulated lunch boxes or bags keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so germs can’t multiply like crazy. Regular lunch boxes and paper bags are okay too, but you have to help them keep stuff the right temperature. So, if you’ve got one of those, follow these…
Some food is good to go all the time:
Double bag your lunch — the layers of paper and air help keep the cold in. Or, put an ice pack or frozen juice box in a plastic baggie (a zip-up one so your sandwich doesn’t get soggy) to make your lunch bag a mini cooler. If you go for the juice box, get the real stuff — 100% juice. Don’t worry, your drink will thaw by lunchtime. And depending on how cold your locker or classroom is, you might even get a slushy!
If you make sandwiches the night before, keep them in the refrigerator or freezer until you pack up to go in the morning.
On cold days, nothing can warm you up like hot soup, pasta, or chili. The key is to keep the hot lunch hot until it’s time to eat — that makes it hard for germs to grow in it. Try using a thermos. Here’s some info on how a thermos works.
Pack It Light and Tight
Keep your food wrapped up and make sure to wrap each part separately so that they don’t leak onto each other…YUCK! Use zipper plastic bags, plastic containers made for carrying food, or get one-serving packs (like yogurt, pudding, or fruit cups). You can skip wrapping up fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas — Mother Nature already did it for you! Just be sure to wash your fruits and veggies before you take a bite. (Once you peel them, you’ve gotta wrap them up and chill them.)
Wash or Toss It
Food is not the only thing that can carry germs — you can too! So, wash your hands with soap and water before you make your lunch, before you eat, and after you’re finished, too. Also, wash fruits and vegetables under cold, running water before packing them in your lunch. Pack your lunch with only the amount of food you think you’ll eat and toss out any leftovers. (Some stuff is okay to keep because it doesn’t go bad quickly. See the factoid box above.) And make sure that you wash your containers and lunch box every day, or get yourself a new paper bag. You know what happens if you don’t…they start to stink!
It’s Your Lunch. You’ve Gotta…
- Get Involved
Help out with your lunch. Work out a menu for the week so you can choose different foods that you like and are still good for you. When your parents go to the grocery store, ask them to get the stuff you need. To keep things simple, try snack-size packs. Or, get big packages of your favorite foods, repack enough for each day in baggies, and then grab them when it’s time to throw lunch together. If mornings get hectic, try packing your lunch the night before. (Just make sure you keep the cold stuff in the fridge until it’s time to go.)
Choose low-fat or non-fat foods whenever you can — like low-fat yogurt, cheese, or milk!
- Get Creative
Plain sandwich? One word: BORING. To jazz up your lunch, use different kinds of breads, like whole-grain pita pockets, tortilla wraps, raisin bread, or English muffins. Make kabobs with cut-up fruits and vegetables and bring along yogurt or salad dressing as a dip. Toss in a salad with some chicken on top. Pack dry cereal or granola to mix into yogurt, or snack on pretzels or trail mix.
- Use ChooseMyPlate
MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image—a place setting for a meal. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. To learn more about building a healthy plate, select a food group below.Here’s a lunch formula for the power and energy you need to make it through the day:
- Half a plate should be fruits and vegetables (like carrot sticks, celery, or apples)
- A container of milk or yogurt, or some cheese (switch to fat-free or low fat (1%) milk
- Make half of your grains whole grains. Some whole-grain bread for a sandwich, cereal mix, or pasta (like spaghetti)
- Some meat (like ham or chicken), tuna fish, hard-boiled eggs, beans (like a bean burrito), or nuts/trail mix
- A little bit of dessert (like pudding or graham crackers) — YUM!
It’s not as tough as it sounds. A turkey and cheese wrap with lettuce and tomato, plus an apple or banana, and some milk, would cover all this. Lunch doesn’t have to be hard or boring. Take charge! Pack yourself stuff that makes you love lunchtime, and gives you energy to make it through school, practice, homework—all the way until dinner!